UFC on FOX 28 took a risk by putting on a headliner between two fighters that aren’t exactly known for their star power.
While both Jeremy Stephens and Josh Emmett are tough competitors and well-rounded martial artists, many believed that a history of dwindling ratings for FOX cards warranted a more stacked lineup, especially with the UFC looking for a new TV deal.
Despite some concerns about the card, it proved to be a success. But for all the excitement, there was controversy to go along with it. Stephens scored a knockout victory, but questions about a couple of the shots he landed are still buzzing throughout the MMA community. Fighters, analysts, and commentators alike have weighed in on the controversial situation, with confusion stemming largely from the rules regarding strikes to a downed opponent.
When Stephens dropped his opponent with a left hook, things were looking good for him. By all accounts, he was only a few finishing blows away from ending the night with a win. He would go on to get the victory, but it was the strikes he threw in the bout’s closing moments that were questionable.
Stephens followed up with elbow strikes, which seemed to land to the back of the head. Strikes to that area, no matter the type, are illegal. While Emmett was still down, Stephens launched a knee at his head. Despite questions about whether or not the blow connected flush or barely grazed its target, Emmett was kneeling. This would make the blow illegal.
Stephens’ post-fight remarks indicate that he seemed to believe the knee was legal. He explained he was informed by referee Dan Miragliotta beforehand during the rule explanation that under the new rules, it was legal to knee the head of an opponent so long as both their hands weren’t on the ground.
This rule, along with a few others, has been changed and tweaked by certain state commissions, casting questions on what exactly counts as a legal strike in this situation. However, the position of a fighter’s hands on the mat are only relevant if the fighter is standing – if they’re kneeling, they’re considered downed.
There’s no guarantee that Emmett would’ve recovered had the referee halted the bout over the strike or even simply called out a warning to Stephens. But Emmett seems to view the strike as illegal, and has planned to appeal his loss.
Daniel Cormier and Dominick Cruz went back and forth over the strike, with Cruz stating that Emmett wasn’t hurt by it. Cormier stated the impact of the strike was irrelevant – it was illegal and, even if it barely made contact, the referee should’ve intervened.
This controversial rule has come up before – Chris Weidman ended up losing a fight against Gegard Mousasi after taking a rest following what was believed to be an illegal knee. When it was discovered the strike was legal, Mousasi was awarded the stoppage victory.